Making fish farming more efficient

More sustainable aquaculture in Canada and abroad is the goal of a novel research project that brings together experts in fish nutrition and engineering.

The researchers aim to make fish farming more energy efficient, saving money for producers in Canada’s nearly $1-billion aquaculture industry and producing more healthy fish for consumers.

The U of G project may also offer a low-cost alternative for running small-scale fish farms in developing countries, says Prof. Wael Ahmed, School of Engineering.

Using engineering smarts, he’s refining airlift pumps in order to deliver water and nutrients more cheaply and reliably than traditional centrifugal pumps used on fish farms.

“Efficiency is the key to build sustainable energy systems,” says Ahmed, whose GryphEnergy lab studies energy use and efficiency in a variety of applications.

The airlift pump works by forcing compressed air into fish tanks or cages. This closed recirculation system moves water and nutrients through the tanks more efficiently than old-style pumps, he says.

That could mean thousands of dollars in energy savings, key for farmers running on narrow profit margins and looking for cost savings wherever they can find them.

Besides saving energy and reducing production costs, Ahmed says his patented technology may also help improve water quality in farms.

He’s installed his sustainable energy system in U of G’s fish nutrition research lab run by Prof. Dominique Bureau, Department of Animal Biosciences.

They’ve tested the set-up for delivering water and nutrients in hopes of helping Canada’s growing fish farming industry. Findings so far show the system can reduce energy use by up to 70 per cent over conventional pumping systems. It’s also less noisy than the traditional pump-driven design.

In 2012, Canadian fish farmers produced 174,000 tonnes, worth about $870 million.

Both researchers hope to adapt the system for cheaper fish farming in developing countries. “It’s important to have access to energy in developing countries and rural areas,” says Ahmed.

They’re working on scaling up the system for testing in several Ontario fish farms, including a trout farming operation in Parry Sound. They also plan tests with public and private farming partners in Vietnam and Indonesia. – ANDREW VOWLES